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I really enjoyed that post; it was nice to see the list of well-known novels that would be considered quite short by today's standards. Of Mice and Men? Animal Farm? Shawshank Redemption? Sounds like pretty good company to me! :)
 

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I agree with DWS- write it the way it needs to be written, regardless of word count. If you pad your word count, savvy readers will know.

I've read S. King short stories and long novels and enjoyed all of them. It is the story that I love, not the word count.
 

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That's interesting. I struggle to write anything longer than about 70,000 words and I always thought 75-80k was the minimum for a book to be considered a 'proper' novel.
 

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Excellent piece with some interesting thoughts. The list of novels is great... it didn't mention Steinbeck's The Red Pony-that's my favorite short novel.

I, personally, like the shorter length as both a writer and a reader. Recently read Stevenson's work (Jekyll & Hyde and New Arabian Nights). He had a knack for this as well and his novels are intriguing, in-depth character studies (also with good plots).
 

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The Indie landscape is becoming a true meritocracy.

Write what you want. Whenever you want. However long you want. Priced like you want. Sold where you want.

But the real key, as DWS wrote, is to have fun.
 
A

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Actually, most of his examples are novellas, not novels.

The problem here is the same problem that we see with discussions about genre. People want to call their book a "novel" because for some reason that seems to be "more important" or they think it will sell better. Nobody wants to write "novellas" because novellas don't sell or because they don't consider novellas "real" books. But most of the books he lists as examples were properly classified as NOVELLAS, even by their authors. And their authors were perfectly happy with those classifications, because (unlike too many indie authors) those authors recognized the novella as a legitimate format.

The real issue is NOT that writers "must" write a certain length for a book to be a novel. The issue is simply that if you write a novella, call it a novella instead of a novel. Don't "fixate" on OMG I MUST BE ABLE TO CALL MY BOOK A NOVEL OR SALES WILL DIE!!!!!!!!!! No, you can call your novella a novella and the sky will not collapse on your head. In fact, you may find you end up with happier readers because readers will get what they were expecting when they buy your book.

Indies pick literary fights for all the wrong reasons. Nobody really cares how many words your work is. All they want to know is that it is classified properly. Don't submit a 10,000 word short story to a magazine that only wants flash fiction and then whine when the story is rejected. Don't submit a haiku to a publication that wants blank verse and then complain that they are being petulant. And don't call a 30,000 word book a novel when it is a novella. Don't be "ashamed" to call a book a novella if that is what it is. Believe it or not, there are people out there who ACTIVELY look for novellas because they like the shorter form.
 

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Bards and Sages (Julie) said:
Actually, most of his examples are novellas, not novels.
I love to see the evidence that the authors considered these novellas at the time. DWS is harking back to an era where the talk was of novels and short novels. I would add a 1980s example: Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is 42,000 words and was never marketed to my knowledge then or since as a novella. I'm aware of Animal Farm being marketed as a fairy tale, but not as a novella. Stepford Wives is still marketed on Amazon as a novel. I would suspect that as the thoughts about length then were different (sort of the whole point of the article) that Heart of Darkness and The Time Machine were considered novels. Breakfast at Tiffany's was subtitled "A Short Novel" and while Amazon may now call Old Man and the Sea a novella it is also often referred to as a short novel.
 

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I think this is great for YA books. Now maybe we don't have to feel like we need to add about 15k words of extra angst in order to get the book to "novel" length. That being said, I still believe my Book 3 will be about 75K words, but that will be pushing the outer limits of how long a work I'm comfortable with working on, unless of course I start writing epic high fantasy  ;)
 

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Well I do find it very strange that he included The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson on that list.  Yes, The Emperor's Soul is approximately 40,000 words, but it was published as recently as 2012, and the author has never once classified it as anything other than a novella.  It won the 2013 Hugo for Best Novella.  Its the length he intended it to be, its acknowledged in the category he intended it to be categorized in, and trying to shoehorn it into a category it doesn't belong in for purposes of this argument isn't doing DWS any favors.

(For all that I agree with him in spirit for the most part.  Novels DON'T have to be 80,000 words if the story doesn't support it.  There's room in today's indie market for short novels between 40-80K.  But I still wouldn't call anything under 40K a novel, because there's already a valid category for that length.  A novella.  And while publishers of the past may be to blame for readers no longer recognizing a novella length work as a novel, that doesn't change the fact that reader expectations of today still won't enable you to call a novella length work a novel without some serious pushback.)
 

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I've done a lot of firsthand research on the retail price of paperbacks. Adjusted for inflation, mass market paperbacks actually cost slightly more before DWS started publishing than they do now. In the 28 years since his first contract in 1987, the cost of MMPBs, in 2015 dollars, has been completely flat. Prices haven't risen at all. In fact, they're slightly cheaper than they were 30 years ago.

So it's not very likely that novels got longer over that period because greedy publishers needed to justify higher prices.

In fact, if books got longer while prices stayed the same, my first thought is that publishers went for longer novels because they found that longer novels sell better.
 

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Really enjoyed this as I am normally a fan of shorter fast paced novels. It was interesting to see the list of novels under 40,000. I am pretty sure that both Fight Club and The Great Gatsby were under 50,000.
Thanks for sharing, looking forward to checking out some of the books.
 

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Thanks for this! An interesting thread about something that has been on my mind lately. My novel 'Cry of the Firebird' is 120k words long and thats been considered a big novel. I am also tweaking another novel that barely hits the 60k mark so I have been wondering if it even counts as a full novel. I guess now I know!  I think the important thing will always come down to the writing. I agree not to try and puff it up because all that will happen is that it will detract from the story. The beauty of self pubbing is that word counts don't have to be a stressful subject for writers anymore. Tell your story, tell it true and it will be what it will be.
 

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When I began fantasy writing, I went for the commercial 80k length, but that always took work. I have this great respect for the greats, which are only about 60k long, so I switched to that length. Writing a novel that length is really it's own skill, and as I'm not long-winded, one I find myself suited to.

BTW, TOR thinks that novellas are the next big thing.
 

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I actually have found the opposite is being told to new writers who wanted a Trad Pub deal: if your book is too long then you have no shot at getting a contract.
Example: I saw this in an article from Writer's Digest about book length. They said authors who insisted on writing books outside the "conventional" length are "obstinate" if they think a longer book will get a trad pub deal BUT if you look at some recent bestsellers (Twilight, Harry Potter, Hunger Games) they were all longer than the genre length. Granted these books are the exception to the rule, but I would think the story should be as long as it needs to be and not a word longer.
 

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There's nothing secret about what is the most popular length for each genre, and it changes all the time. One only need look at the page count of the top ten in your genre. No magic there.

And still there are successful novels even today that are pushing 500K words (Game of Thrones, Outlander).  Oh, for those days of yore when a novel was a tome (meaning, a "cutting") of 540,000 words (the Count of Monte Cristo), or a Les-Miserables behemoth of 677,000 words! I remember taking that book on vacation with me and tearing it in half because I knew I'd never make it more than halfway through. Right-wingers seem to be able to wade through "Atlas Shrugged" without a backache. For me, it's a bit much. Pride and Prejudice at 138K words, or even Moby Dick, at 250K words, seem more "normal", but with Kipling's "Just So Stories" at 38K words I wouldn't consider it novel-length.

I wonder if the system has changed so much that now you can't make it as self-published without writing short novels.  Times change.
 

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Bards and Sages (Julie) said:
Actually, most of his examples are novellas, not novels.

The problem here is the same problem that we see with discussions about genre. People want to call their book a "novel" because for some reason that seems to be "more important" or they think it will sell better. Nobody wants to write "novellas" because novellas don't sell or because they don't consider novellas "real" books. But most of the books he lists as examples were properly classified as NOVELLAS, even by their authors. And their authors were perfectly happy with those classifications, because (unlike too many indie authors) those authors recognized the novella as a legitimate format.

The real issue is NOT that writers "must" write a certain length for a book to be a novel. The issue is simply that if you write a novella, call it a novella instead of a novel. Don't "fixate" on OMG I MUST BE ABLE TO CALL MY BOOK A NOVEL OR SALES WILL DIE!!!!!!!!!! No, you can call your novella a novella and the sky will not collapse on your head. In fact, you may find you end up with happier readers because readers will get what they were expecting when they buy your book.

Indies pick literary fights for all the wrong reasons. Nobody really cares how many words your work is. All they want to know is that it is classified properly. Don't submit a 10,000 word short story to a magazine that only wants flash fiction and then whine when the story is rejected. Don't submit a haiku to a publication that wants blank verse and then complain that they are being petulant. And don't call a 30,000 word book a novel when it is a novella. Don't be "ashamed" to call a book a novella if that is what it is. Believe it or not, there are people out there who ACTIVELY look for novellas because they like the shorter form.
These are some really good points. I happily classify my 30K books as novellas. Seems not only indies but everyone from publishers to some readers gets far too hung up on book length requirements. Does it really matter if your book is 30K or 300K so long as that's the length needed to tell that story?

srf89 said:
I actually have found the opposite is being told to new writers who wanted a Trad Pub deal: if your book is too long then you have no shot at getting a contract.
Example: I saw this in an article from Writer's Digest about book length. They said authors who insisted on writing books outside the "conventional" length are "obstinate" if they think a longer book will get a trad pub deal BUT if you look at some recent bestsellers (Twilight, Harry Potter, Hunger Games) they were all longer than the genre length. Granted these books are the exception to the rule, but I would think the story should be as long as it needs to be and not a word longer.
The key thing here is that you're talking about people writing books outside the conventional length. That means books that aren't only considered too long but also books that are considered too short. I never bothered submitting any of my novellas to agents or publishers, but I know people who have tried and they were told "we can't sell a novella" (ironically enough, one of the people who told me this heard it from someone at Tor).

If your book is too long or too short, you have no shot (or a low shot) at getting a traditional contract.
 

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I generally like DWS and his posts, especially stuff he's done in the myth series, but this is bollocks. He's justly railing against publishers' push for longer and longer works, but ignoring the reality that word lengths are useful categories for general use, not simply as a means by the evil gatekeepers to control writers.

Publishers other than the Big Five need to mark the line between flash fiction, short shorts, short stories, novelettes, novellas, and novels. As do many awards in various genres. He's taking a justified argument against publishers' contracts pushing for longer works and using it to bash against honestly useful--though utterly arbitrary--dividing lines based on word count.

Knowing the difference between flash fiction, short stories, novellas, and novels is a damned useful industry construction. Sure, if your novel is 39,999 words, chances are no one will notice, much less care, if you call it a novel instead of a novella. But DWS's piece also ignores the very real shift in the readers expectations over the years. The era he's calling back to, the pulps, effectively ended something like 70 years ago. That's a lot of time for the reading public the acclimate to longer and longer works.

To me, this is akin to someone shouting that the genre publishers call "police procedural" is a chain of oppression shackling and enslaving readers and writers alike. Down with oppression. Really? So what you'd call a police procedural yesterday, you'll call a billig tomorrow. But I'll call my police procedural will be labelled a [email protected]#$%@#S. Good luck getting readers who just want a police procedural.

Bringing that back to novels and length, write the story as long as it needs to be, granted. If it's done at 40,000, just let it be done there. As indies we don't need to push longer, unless we want to. That's not the trouble.

The issue comes in when you write a 40k piece of prose and slap the label "novel" on it and try to sell it. Then those same writers come here to complain at all the one-star reviews and negative comments about the "novel" being so short. What you've written may technically be a novel, but the reader who picks it up will generally have a completely different expectation of what a novel means, re: length. To the vast majority of readers today the word "novel" means something longer than 40k. To many readers, it's a "novel" when it approaches the dreaded 80k or more level that DWS is railing against. Right, wrong, or indifferent, that's what the reader expects. I for one don't look forward to having to "retrain" readers to accept a 40k word novel.

I'm not saying he's wrong for arguing against publishers pushing for longer and longer works. More power to him. But indie writers shifting en masse to shorter and shorter works while using the label more properly attributed to longer works is asking for trouble. DWS is right that indies can write to any length they want. More power to us. But he's wrong that calling shorter and shorter works "novels" is going to do anything other than cause a lot of indie writers a lot of very bad reviews.
 

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Bards and Sages (Julie) said:
Actually, most of his examples are novellas, not novels.

The problem here is the same problem that we see with discussions about genre. People want to call their book a "novel" because for some reason that seems to be "more important" or they think it will sell better. Nobody wants to write "novellas" because novellas don't sell or because they don't consider novellas "real" books. But most of the books he lists as examples were properly classified as NOVELLAS, even by their authors. And their authors were perfectly happy with those classifications, because (unlike too many indie authors) those authors recognized the novella as a legitimate format.

The real issue is NOT that writers "must" write a certain length for a book to be a novel. The issue is simply that if you write a novella, call it a novella instead of a novel. Don't "fixate" on OMG I MUST BE ABLE TO CALL MY BOOK A NOVEL OR SALES WILL DIE!!!!!!!!!! No, you can call your novella a novella and the sky will not collapse on your head. In fact, you may find you end up with happier readers because readers will get what they were expecting when they buy your book.

Indies pick literary fights for all the wrong reasons. Nobody really cares how many words your work is. All they want to know is that it is classified properly. Don't submit a 10,000 word short story to a magazine that only wants flash fiction and then whine when the story is rejected. Don't submit a haiku to a publication that wants blank verse and then complain that they are being petulant. And don't call a 30,000 word book a novel when it is a novella. Don't be "ashamed" to call a book a novella if that is what it is. Believe it or not, there are people out there who ACTIVELY look for novellas because they like the shorter form.
Or all of that, really.
 

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Issues of required sizes aside, I think a good short story or novella is much harder to write than a novel. There's no room to hide in a shorter length (kind of like a mini-skirt or speedos, I suppose?), whereas a novel allows you to wander about and do whatever the heck you like (see: Robert Jordan, George Martin, etc).

I wonder how long it took Steinbeck to write the Red Pony?
 
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